Beethoven was Olympian too, conductor Barenboim says

LONDON Fri Jul 27, 2012 8:52am EDT

Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim directs Beethoven's ninth symphony in honor of Pope Benedict XVI (not pictured) at La Scala in Milan June 1, 2012. REUTERS/Daniel Dal Zennaro/Pool

Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim directs Beethoven's ninth symphony in honor of Pope Benedict XVI (not pictured) at La Scala in Milan June 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Daniel Dal Zennaro/Pool

LONDON (Reuters) - Beethoven was a bit of an Olympian too, conductor Daniel Barenboim said as he prepared to conduct the Ninth Symphony and its famous "Ode to Joy" in London on Friday, the day of the official Olympics opening.

Barenboim, 69, said it was "purely coincidental" that his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra's performances of the nine symphonies in one week at the BBC Proms summer festival culminated on the night of the Games opening ceremony.

But speaking at a news conference on Thursday night, he indulged the link by saying that if nothing else, performing the Beethoven symphonies intermingled with the less familiar work of French composer Pierre Boulez, had demonstrated "the Olympian significance of this cycle".

"You could read a lot of ideas into this, yes, Beethoven the Olympian, yes the Olympics brings people together," the Argentine-born Israeli conductor said.

"But I don't think there is a real reason for doing this except for the fact that...a very important cycle of the complete symphonies of Beethoven, and one or two works sometimes by Pierre Boulez in the same program presented just before the Olympics, is a sort of statement of the importance of music in our society."

Barenboim added that Beethoven was a source of strength and hope in a world that sometimes seems to have lost its way.

"The feeling that Beethoven has given to me is that his music fights against this human weakness of trying to believe that what is good we wish we could keep it forever and what is bad will never go away.

"Beethoven's music gives me the strength to think beyond that," he said.

He criticized Israel for what he saw as its failure to take advantage of change in the political landscape in the Middle East brought about by the Arab Spring uprisings.

"Every time we start something new it may go wrong, but first of all you have to salute that, and especially Israel who has been claiming for so many years that it is the only democracy in the Middle East. Well, what a better opportunity, missed again."

The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is formed of musicians from across the Middle East, including Israelis and Palestinians, in the interest of promoting social and cultural harmony.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)